UCD Centre for Digital Policy Seminar by Professor Hamid R. Ekbia on 11 July

Topic AI Summers and Human Winters: The Crisis of Modernist Projects

When 11:00 AM on July 11th

Where D101, Newman Building, UCD

The recent rise of AI seems to defy an old pattern commonly known as “AI winters,” where cycles of hyped-up boom were followed by periods of decline and disappointment. This time, it seems, AI is here to stay, drawing attention and investment from a whole gamut of contemporary institutions (academia, corporations, governments, international bodies, etc.). How can we explain this state of affairs? I propose to approach this question from the perspective of longue durée, thinking of AI as a project that expresses the underlying predicaments of modernity. I would like to show that AI itself is the culmination of four modernist projects, each with its own underlying logic: (i) the calculative logic of rationalism; (ii) the accumulative logic of capitalism; (iii) the dominative logic of colonialism; and (iv) the delegative logic of postmodernism. The convergence of these projects in our times has brought about a global crisis of historical scale, of which AI is a vivid expression. In this light, what seems to be a hot summer for AI might, in fact, promise a long winter for the global humanity. Refusing to take this as an indispensable destiny, I explore alternatives, inviting collective action to avoid it.

Hamid Ekbia is Professor of Informatics, International Studies, and Cognitive Science at Indiana University, Bloomington. He studies the political economy of computing, the socio-philosophical foundations of AI, and geo-political dimensions of modern technology. His forthcoming book on The Crisis of AI explores the relation between AI and the broader social crises of our times (Columbia University Press). His co-authored book Heteromation and Other Stories of Computing and Capitalism (MIT Press, 2017) examines computer-mediated modes of value extraction in capitalist economies, and his earlier book Artificial Dreams: The Quest for Non-Biological Intelligence (Cambridge University Press, 2008) is a critical-technical analysis of AI. He is a co-editor of a volume titled Big Data Is Not a Monolith (MIT Press, 2016) and the co-author of a new book Universal Access and Its Asymmetries: The Untold Story of the Last 200 Years (MIT Press 2022). His research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the Fulbright Program in the U.S., as well as the Otto Mønsted Fund (OMF) in Copenhagen, Denmark, the Internationales Forschungszentrum Kulturwissenschaften (IFK) in Vienna, Austria, the 21st Century Japan Politics and Society Initiative (JPSI), and the King’s College London. He is the recipient of an Honorary Doctorate from the University of West Bohemia, Czech Republic.